President Trump’s heavily criticized separation of immigrant families and his aggressive attempts to undermine the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election have led to a series of Republican retributions over the past 24 hours.
First, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ex-Republican turned independent, announced that he is strategically donating an eye-popping $80 million to Democratic congressional candidates in the lead-up to November.
Second, Steve Schmidt, who served as campaign manager for John McCain’s 2008 presidential run, declared that he has renounced the “vile” Republican Party that has emerged under Trump and will support Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Schmidt, a GOP moderate and a Republican strategist, is a household name in political circles and his rejection of his party has been trending on Twitter all day.
And third, pundits within the Washington Beltway have been kicking around the idea of a soft coup in the Senate that would endanger Mitch McConnell’s Majority Leader status if Trump continues his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller or implies that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could face the axe if he does not maintain loyalty to the president.
The scenario goes like this: A pact among senators would warn that, if Trump fires Mueller or Rosenstein, McConnell will be removed as majority leader. Leading this intervention would be moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, outgoing GOP Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Sen. John McCain, who is suffering from terminal cancer.
With the Republican Senate majority at a mere 51-49, it would only take two switched votes to oust McConnell and replace him with Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer – or possibly with Corker, or with moderate Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
With the understanding that few Republican senators support Trump ousting Mueller or Rosenstein – even if many are ambiguous about such things when talking on the record – the plan is based on the assertion that the potential chaos that is within Trump’s grasp could motivate unprecedented moves on Capitol Hill.
The leading advocate of this perspective on Twitter is Susan Hennessey, executive editor of the Lawfare website and a legal analyst for CNN:
“It’s a big threat designed to deter the gravest presidential action. It gives McConnell an ace in the hole to pressure Trump not to do something McConnell doesn’t want him to do by saying he (& GOP) will lose immediate control of Senate and effectively kill any legislative agenda.”
Within recent hours,the president has issued an executive order ending family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, though it’s far from clear if this presidential action will alleviate the problem.
Going back a few weeks, conservative commentators who have routinely demonstrated loyalty to the GOP now express distrust of the Trump administration. In fact, some mainstream Republican loyalists wish for a Democratic victory in November House elections as a means of waking up the GOP.
“I have never voted for a Democrat for a federal or state office in my life,” wrote conservative columnist John Ziegler last week. “This year, much to my amazement and disappointment, not only will I be likely be voting for Democrats at that level, I will actually be rooting for Democrats to win back at least the House of Representatives.”
“I do hope Democrats win the House,” proclaimed Pete Wehner, the former deputy director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush.. “I say that not because I’m a liberal or pro-Democrat, but because it’s important for the Republican Party and for the country.”
“For the sake of conservatism and the party, it’s essential that Donald Trump’s grip on them be loosened and Trumpism be repudiated,” Wehner said. “The best way to do that is for Republicans to lose because they’ve been associated with Trump.”
But he added:
“Trump didn’t destroy the Republican Party — it’s the cowardice of the Republican leaders, their complicity in all of it, the lack of courage to stand up for what’s right.
“Republican members of Congress are cowed and fearful of Trump and they have abrogated their oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States from Trump’s attacks on the rule of law; on objective truth; his defilement of important institutions; his sundering of the American people; his betrayals of the Atlantic alliance; his racism; and his cruelty. The party has become profoundly corrupt, both financially in the form of men like Scott Pruitt and Jared [Kushner] and Ivanka [Trump], but also intellectually rotten and corrupt.”
Bloomberg similarly bashed the GOP-controlled House and Senate for failing to stand up to the president on contentious matters.
The former mayor is liberal on issues such as gun control and climate change while conservative on regulating the banking industry and anti-crime policies. He has lamented the politics of the Democratic left and Sen. Bernie Sanders and is expected to financially support moderates in key suburban areas where the Democrats have the best chance of flipping some House seats.
The billionaire businessman has consistently supported a wide array of Republican and Democratic gubernatorial and congressional candidates.
Bloomberg’s partisan loyalties have shifted repeatedly over the years: He was a registered Democrat before switching parties to be elected mayor in 2001, and hosted the Republican convention in New York in 2004 before leaving that party to become an independent three years later. He twice made serious preparations to run for president as an independent, in 2008 and 2016, but both times ultimately decided against it.
In his statement today, he said:
Congress has essentially stopped acting as a co-equal branch of government, by failing to engage in the kind of oversight of the law that the constitution requires and the public expects.
… Republicans in Congress have had almost two years to prove they could govern responsibly. They failed. As we approach the 2018 midterms, it’s critical that we elect people who will lead in ways that this Congress won’t — both by seeking to legislate in a bipartisan way, and by upholding the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers set up to safeguard ethics, prevent the abuse of power, and preserve the rule of law.
This post was updated at 7:40 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.